Contributing writer for Wake Up World
“The top 400 people own more wealth than the bottom 185 million Americans taken together. That is a medieval structure.” ~ Gar Alperovitz
We may not think much about the fact that of the 100 largest economies in the world, 51 are corporations while only 49 are countries. Or how corporations wield incredible influence over the policies and direction of entire nations. Nor may we be aware that the alleged Supreme Court ‘corporations are persons’ ruling in 1886 never happened — it was actually a fiction created by the court’s reporter, who had written the words into the headnote of the decision. The Supreme Court Chief Justice of the time explicitly informed the reporter that the court had not ruled on corporate personhood in the Santa Clara case — but, for better or worse, that misrepresentation stuck.
Regardless, today, corporations significantly affect a large part of our daily lives. Seeing the problems inherent within the corporate model, many have attempted to break the monopoly corporations have over business in an attempt to create a true free-market, where all people — not just a select few at the top — can genuinely flourish.
One of the most successful methods for placing the power squarely back into the hands of real people is to cultivate business that’s rooted in community. Instead of organizing a massive offensive against corporate evil, individuals are ‘being the change’, turning their focus toward creating the kind of business structures they would like to see in the world — and in turn, they have created a grassroots economic revolution that’s sweeping across America.
Greed, Corruption and Corporations
Embedded deeply within America’s political and economic system, corporations are the foundation for many of the issues facing the world today. Whether poverty or war, governmental corruption or environmental devastation, corporations play a large role in these problems and more.
Writes Marianne Williamson in Corporate Totalitarianism, or Not:
“Corporate totalitarianism means total control by corporate interests. If they want a war, they get a war. If they want GMOs, they get GMOs. If they want fracking, they get fracking. If they want big banks to control our monetary policy, big banks control our monetary policy. If they want a tax break, they get a tax break. … If they want to deregulate to the point of complete irresponsibility to our children and to the earth, they deregulate as much as they care to. And if they see a way to profit from the vulnerability of the old, the disadvantaged, the poor, the young, or the sick, then they are given the right to do so.
“Through their control of politicians, political parties and corporate media, they do everything necessary to make sure that political candidates who resist them get nowhere near the levers of power. It is not by accident that they have created Trump, protected Clinton, and sidelined Sanders.”
The stark reality is money creates power and influence — and corporations are at the top of the game. It’s easy enough to buy lawmakers or control the direction of regulation when you have access to large amounts of money. To take on these behemoths is usually an exercise in futility. What’s needed are small, creative micro-revolutions that bring the control of business back to the local community.
Transforming America From the Ground Up
The idea behind a “Pluralist Commonwealth” was created by Gar Alperovitz, a historian and political economist who’s deeply concerned about the state of the world today. It’s “an economic and political system different from both corporate capitalism and state socialism grounded in democratic ownership, decentralization, and community.” The key players in this model are public banking, worker cooperatives/employee owned companies and the “buy local” movement.
Instead of investing capital to enhance Wall Street’s bottom line, public banking supports the common good, usually on a local level. For almost 100 years, this model has existed in the publicly owned Bank of North Dakota. By offering affordable credit and reinvesting revenues into the community — such as into education — entire regions and local economies are strengthened. As Alperovitz notes:
“Public banks, credit unions, and community development financial institutions can all grow over time to displace the financialized, profit-seeking banking sector, helping turn the tables to put the public’s money to work for the benefit of everyone.”
Traced back to the early labor movement, worker-owned cooperatives have a long history in the US. For example, in 1794, after a Baltimore shoemakers strike, the craftsmen decided to self-organize a shoe production facility that was completely owned by the workers. It was actually quite common for artisans and craftsmen to create worker-owned cooperatives in order to ply their trade back in the day.
The brilliance of these enterprises is that instead of employees laboring for someone else’s profit, worker co-ops turn the standard business model on its head by shifting ownership and control to the workers themselves. Not only do these worker-owned companies share the wealth equally and encourage excellence, they often are run more efficiently and tend to stay in business longer that conventional firms. Read more about the positive strides worker cooperatives are making throughout the US here.
Buy Local… On a Grand Scale
The catchphrase “buy local” has been a buzzword in environmental and sustainability circles for decades. It’s well known that when people choose to spend their money at local businesses — instead of at big name box stores or mega chains — everyone wins, especially our communities. But there’s been a movement over the last several years to take this idea a step further: shifting the purchasing power of regional nonprofit institutions towards local sustainability.
A case in point is the Real Food Challenge. In under a decade, student activists were able to shift over $60 million worth of food purchases at 73 colleges and universities across the US to sustainable and just alternatives. Or take a student organized study at the University of Michigan that discovered a mere 5 percent shift in procurement to local suppliers would create more than 450 jobs and increase local economic activity by $13 million.
‘“Buying local” may make us feel better about the consequences of our consumer choices, but when we change the way our public and large nonprofit institutions like universities and hospitals spend their money, we’re shifting hundreds of billions, if not upwards of a trillion, dollars into local economies — and creating a kind of decentralized planning system in the process,” said Alperovitz.
Moreover, as we continue to embrace these structures of local and sustainable business — that put people first — their influence will grow. And eventually, will render the corporate model obsolete.
The Pluralist Commonwealth
An economy focused solely on growth is environmentally and socially unsustainable. In this video, historian and political economist Gar Alperovitz offers an animated view of what a system grounded in democratized ownership of the economy and real sustainability would look like.
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